Category Archives: Branding

Who do you think you are?

authentic brand copywritingWhen I was in fourth grade, our teacher tasked us with writing our “autobiographies.” Given that a compelling and lengthy personal narrative is a rarity among 9-year-olds, she also told us to write a chapter about what we thought our futures would hold. I wrote that “I will be a linebacker for the Chicago Bears and will marry a blond-haired girl.” One out of two ain’t bad.

If I had the patience or discipline to embark on such an exercise today, with four more decades under my ever-expanding belt, it would certainly lead me to engage in some serious self-reflection about who I am and what common themes define my personal story beyond “Disneyland was super neat!”

Crafting your company’s content should involve similar introspection.

In a previous post, I asked, “Who do you think you’re talking to?” That is to say, you should consider your target audience’s perspective when developing your content. Who is likely reading this? What’s important to them? What do they know about your industry, company or product?

Now, it’s time to ask yourself “Who do you think you are?” Whether you’re writing website copy, a blog post, or any other marketing collateral, you should know who you are or at least how you wish to appear before typing a single word. Your business’ identity, core values and culture should play a big, if not defining, role in the tone and substance of your content.

How can content convey who you are beyond explicitly spelling it out? “We are a company that manufactures the highest-quality widgets at the lowest price.” Here are two tips that can help you incorporate your company’s personality in your marketing content:

  1. Do some navel-gazing.

You may already have given a great deal of thought to your corporate identity. Perhaps you have a company mission statement that conveys what you are all about and identifies your primary objectives. Maybe your branding is strong and clear. If so, it’s important to take the defining elements of that identity and carry it forward into your content. If you haven’t spent time being a little touchy-feely about who you are as a company, you should do some brainstorming alone or with core members of your team.

Ask yourself:

  • What five words or phrases describe my company?
  • Why did I go into business in the first place?
  • How do I want prospects and customers to feel about my company after they visit my website for the first time?
  1. Make sure your voice is your voice.

If I could somehow conjure up William Shakespeare to ghostwrite my autobiography, I wouldn’t do it. As brilliant and timeless as the Bard’s encapsulation of my life may be, it wouldn’t reflect who I am. His writing would sound incongruous and awkward compared with how I am or appear to others — at least until I start living my life in iambic pentameter.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have someone write your content, but your content should sound like you. Maybe not the you watching the Cubs in Game 7 of the World Series or the you stuck in traffic on the Kennedy, but the you in a meeting with a client or on the phone with a potential customer. If someone reads your website expecting one thing and then gets another when they start interacting with you, it can dilute your company identity and be off-putting.

It has been said that you can’t fake authenticity. Your marketing content shouldn’t try to do so, either.

How does your content convey your identity? Let us know in the comments.

Now, show ’em you know ’em

show-your-audience_featured-image2So you’ve read Dave’s great overview of writing content for your intended audience? Fantastic. But shhh … lean in close. I have a secret for you:

It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.

Along with engaging content, quality design is a key way to show your audience that you understand what they want and need. Good design will help you put your audience at ease, get them straight to the information they seek, and help you close the deal.

Here are four simple ways to use design to show ‘em you know ‘em:

1. Say it with a pretty picture.

Choosing the right imagery for your brand is as important as crafting your copy. While your content will convey the facts, information and core message you want your readers to internalize, on-point imagery will convey the feeling to back up and enhance your words. Let’s look at a client example:

supporting content with design

Ahhh. That’s nice, isn’t it? Don’t you feel relaxed just looking at this scene? That’s by design, so to speak. JMG’s imagery evokes sweeping, natural vistas and serene leisure activities. Why? JMG is a financial planning firm. The firm’s clients are working hard and putting their hard-earned money in the the firm’s hands, so they can retire one day and enjoy the fruits of the firm’s wise financial management. Put your trust in JMG, the image says, and we’ll put you on the right path.

2. Say it right away.

Good design involves more than just colors and imagery. Sure, who doesn’t love a great font? But when it comes to finding what you need – especially on a website – layout is your user experience bread and butter. Web audiences have a notoriously short attention span, which is why designers focus on ways to attract and hold audience attention.

We think about the F-shaped scanning pattern people use.

We think about how to design compelling and attractive service boxes (or a great call to action) that peeks just above the (infamous) fold.

We want the audience to know immediately that they have landed on a site that has just the thing they need – whether information, products, help or all of the above.

3. Say it by association.

Use design to help persuade. Let your reader know, loud and clear:

Customers just like you already trust us. Respected organizations trust us.


respected logos attract customersadd visual value





Trust badges can be visual seals or logos of organizations you belong to, review sites or customers you’ve worked with. They’re designed to inspire trust by association to another prestigious organization.

4. Say it again.

Design should reinforce the written message.

Let me repeat that.

Design should reinforce the written message.

Your message should be crafted carefully from your audience’s point of view. Inspirational, accessible and exactly where your reader needed it to be. Make it easy for them to see that you already have just the thing they need. Make it clear that you are a trusted resource, and say it more than once.

You want your audience to know that you understand them; that you’ve thought about what they need and want. Now, show ‘em you know ‘em.

How do you show your audience you know ’em? Tell us in the comments.

What does ‘truth’ mean to marketing?

truth in marketingHistorically, much philosophical debate has focused on the search for “truth.”

This history includes myriad accounts of what truth is. They range from being relatively simple, like Rene Descartes’, “I think, therefore I am,” to mind-numbingly complex. But what all of these accounts have in common is an assertion that there is “truth” – that reality has a certain structure that, with the proper philosophical viewpoint, you, too, can comprehend.

As you get later into the development of philosophy, however, the definition of truth opens up. Friedrich Nietzsche is famous for is his dramatic insistence that “truth is a mobile army of metaphors.” Many American philosophers in the same period agreed, saying that “truth” is a commendatory term that expresses favor and not correspondence to reality. Crucially, Nietzsche and the American Pragmatist movement both thought that a true statement has to fit with other true statements. This undercuts the interpretation that a lie can be seen as a truth.

This definition of “truth” relates to marketing in a very tangible way.

In marketing, we calculate truth in moments. These “moments of truth,” a phrase coined by Swedish businessman Jan Carlzon, happen every time a customer interacts with your brand and has the chance to form an impression; it’s every time that a real customer tests the promise you’ve made.

By capturing and capitalizing on these moments, you can shape a customer’s perception and turn your brand promise into a truth.

Your offerings touch clients and prospects through many channels, so you have many opportunities to fulfill your promise and make it a truth. Consider what potential customers see when they search for your brand or find you in an industry search (what Google calls the zero moment of truth). Is their initial impression different if they come through a mobile channel versus a desktop format? Now think of their experiences making a purchase – how many ways can they do that?

Your sales team, every piece of marketing and every other customer interaction are up to you to shape. You owe it to yourself to find the unique driver that leads people to your company and leverage it to influence the perception of your brand. Find the most interesting approach you can to your company, and then to broadcast that to the world.

In what ways do you shape your brand’s truth? Let us know in the comments below.

Make your brand stand for something

social responsibility, find your causeWhat about your go-to brands makes them your favorites? Is it the quality of the products? Is it loyalty to something you’ve known for years? Or is it that the brand cares about what you care about?

Social responsibility is a huge part of marketing strategies today – consumers want to see that your company cares about what they do.

Issues like cancer, heart disease, gender equality, gender identity, environmentalism, poverty and starvation need continual attention so that the messages around awareness and support can stay relevant. Many companies use strategic partnerships with nonprofit organizations to get involved with specific causes and bolster their brand identities. This mutually beneficial relationship is called “cause marketing,” and can increase engagement with employees and consumers, alike.

Before choosing a nonprofit organization to partner with or support, however, companies need to make sure their brands align with the selected nonprofits. Employees and consumers need to understand why a company values a specific cause easily. No one questions why brands like TOMS or Warby Parker donate shoes and glasses to people in need. Patagonia has made clear that environmentalism and sustainability are at the core of its brand, so it’s no surprise that the company supports cloth recycling.

If you’d like to develop your brand’s social responsibility strategy, start here.

Look to the industry. Start with what you know and look at what causes relate to your work. You might find that your company already has a relationship with a related cause. Candle makers may donate to fire safety groups. Construction groups may volunteer services to build homes for the needy. Every industry has at least one obvious way to give back.

Look to employees. Ask leadership and other employees what they’re passionate about. Find out what boards and organizations you already have team members involved in – many of your employees’ concerns probably overlap with the company’s core values.

Look to consumers. Consumers are always on top of hot-button issues. Get in touch with your target audience and find out what causes resonate with them. If you have a diverse client list, you could support several causes with different events or a rotating list of relevant organizations.

Regardless of where you find your inspiration for a social responsibility strategy, remember that authenticity and transparency are the most important. Consumers should be able to see what you care about, why you care about it and how it fits into your brand’s identity. Sincere efforts to support a cause that aligns with your brand can reinforce core values with good deeds.

Does your business practice social responsibility? Let us know in the comments.


Success starts with showcasing your value

Brand value

Picture this: a new restaurant opens across the street from your house. You try it and, for the first time in years, you have a new favorite. You tell everybody about the restaurant; about its subtle, yet edgy, atmosphere, the friendly wait staff, and the delicious, reasonably priced food. You go there multiple times a week, with friends or alone, and you’re sad when it’s closed on Mondays. As the novelty wears off, you start ordering carry-out – and noticing more empty tables in the little restaurant. One day you walk in around 6:30 p.m. and the only other people in the place are the employees. You want to ask the people at the counter why they don’t have a website or any social media presence to speak of, but you know it isn’t their fault that the restaurant will almost certainly be out of business by this time next year.

What’s the point of brand development?

Objections to brand development come in many forms. For instance, a manager might insist that his industry doesn’t warrant big marketing initiatives. A vice president might think that the sales team gets results through personal relationships or arm-twisting, rather than supporting materials. On the other end of the spectrum, a small business owner might like to get some rebranding in the works, but never seems to have the ready funding or time to improve his business in that way.

Brand development is how you communicate the value of your business to the people who you want to be your customers. You could be managing one of the best restaurants on the whole block, but, if you don’t invest in any kind of marketing get new patrons through the door, good luck to you. You could be running one of the best sales teams in the country, but, without good, coherent material to show a prospect, securing big orders will be 10 times harder.

Instead of relying on luck, take charge of how people think about your business. Your brand should have a personality that resonates with your target audience. Examine how your company fits into the industry and where you add value for customers. Develop a strategy that showcases how you’re different and why that matters to the people you’re trying to serve. In time, you’ll not only be sending a clear message to your prospects, but also building loyalty and advocacy around your brand.

Have you taken charge of your branding? Let us know how in the comments below.

Engage your customers with a real voice

talking-guys-1428187Just like in consumer marketing, the voice of a B2B company is an essential component of that brand’s identity. It steers all company communication – in person, in print and online – and gives the brand consistency across multiple messaging platforms. Consistency isn’t the only goal, however. Your brand’s voice should resonate with your customers.

So, when your customers are other businesses, do you have to keep your messaging “corporate”?

Read more…

Project spotlight: A fresh look for Morrisey

MorriseyOne of The Simons Group’s longtime clients, Morrisey Associates, debuted a brand-new look for its marketing materials earlier this year. I was fortunate enough to work with the healthcare software solutions company and the rest of our creative team to bring its vision to life. We’re pretty excited about the results at The Simons Group, and we think you’ll agree. Here’s a look inside the process.

The challenge

Morrisey had a significant collection of marketing materials, and some information was repeated in multiple pieces. Morrisey’s sales and marketing team decided to consolidate some of the collateral to avoid duplication and make it easier for prospects and customers to digest the information. Since The Simons Group was already redoing the materials, it was an ideal time for a design makeover. Morrisey’s existing materials were a few years old, and the company wanted its new collateral to look fresh, clean and modern.

The process

We’ve worked with Morrisey for a long time, so we’re familiar with the company’s design and style preferences. We created a couple of looks that were consistent with Morrisey’s branding and culture and presented them for review. Once the company chose its desired look, we went to work, creating:

  • A new style guide. This document establishes the framework for every Morrisey design, including colors, fonts and other style elements. We narrowed down the company’s palette to red, gray and black, eliminating some other colors they had used in the past to keep the look cohesive.
  • Simplified logos. The company was using multiple logos and wanted to streamline its brand identity. We created a simplified set of logos consistent with the new look to enhance brand recognition.
  • A design template. We created a template that would be flexible enough to work with different sizes, from a one-page sell sheet or an eight-page brochure.
  • New collateral. From brochures to trade show banners, we overhauled all of Morrisey’s collateral to reflect the new look. The new materials take a more visual approach, with less text and more white space for maximum readability. Morrisey had also made some structural changes to its enterprise software solutions and needed to update the graphics in the collateral. We changed the approach for these, making them more intuitive and reflective of the current systems.

The results 

Morrisey’s sales and marketing teams say they absolutely love the new materials. The company’s fresh, streamlined look gives the company a stronger brand identity and makes it easier for customers and prospects to recognize Morrisey at trade shows and other events. The company’s next big marketing project is a video about its Morrisey Practitioner Performance Reporting™ (MPPR™) solution, and we’ll be incorporating the company’s new look and feel into the finished product.

‘Brief’ breaks help you stay on target

attachment-2-1240615Businesses today face constant pressure to keep up with the pace of their customers and competition, so it’s no surprise when a big project gets squeezed into a too-tight timeline. Even with compressed schedules and the temptation to find shortcuts, marketing teams have to be sure not to skip important project management steps like developing a solid creative brief.

Creative briefs explain, in detail, the project goals, client expectations and relevant brand standards so that all team members can check their ideas against it along the way. It removes ambiguity at the start of a project, so midstream issues can be resolved quickly and every decision has a clear purpose. Without this defined reference point, it can be difficult to critique how well creative work fulfills project needs – and how well the project fulfills brand objectives.

Worried that your creative might get off track? Check your brief to make sure it covers the essentials:

  • Where does the company/brand stand now and where should it be?
  • What is the competitive advantage of the product/service?
  • Who are you trying to reach? Through what media?
  • What voice/tone and messaging is consistent with the brand?
  • What information does the project have to include?

Every project will have its own way of fitting into the brand, but the easiest way to stay on target is to create a clear, comprehensive guide that team members can reference periodically as they work. Implementing these “brief breaks” will go a long way in ensuring every project stays on target.

What tips do you have to keep your creative on track? Let us know in the comments below.

Turning customers into brand advocates: Part 1 of 2

1429210_52756716What is brand advocacy? It’s another way of saying word of mouth. When a satisfied customer endorses your company without compensation, congratulations – you have a brand advocate on your hands.

Want to know how many customers are singing your praises? The No. 1 question to ask your customers is: “On a scale from 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend my company?” To get the most feedback, post the question on social media or send an email survey, which are quick and easy ways for your customers to respond. 

Read more…

You’re speaking my language


Marketing is basically an ongoing conversation with your target audience. Your ultimate goal as a marketer or business owner should be to guide the conversation in a way that allows your audience to interact with your brand in a meaningful way. Here are some tips to help you get the conversation started:

Eliminate jargon. People who work in different industries often use shorthand and complicated language that doesn’t make sense to someone outside those industries, including customers. Cutting unnecessary jargon helps people understand your message and makes your brand accessible.

Focus on benefits. Business owners love the products and services they offer; after all, they are the lifeblood of their companies. They help keep the lights on and ensure that the employees are paid. A strong focus on your products and services in your business practice is a must, but focusing on them in your marketing can be a big mistake. Your audience doesn’t care about how you developed your software. They want to know how much more productive it will make them. They don’t give a whit about how their diabetes medication manages their blood sugar. They want to know that they’ll be able to live their lives normally if they use it.

Address fears. Believe it or not, your audience is often up at night fretting about their business issues. If you can tap into those fears and provide solutions in your marketing, you’ll attract and retain customers. This is a great way to showcase the benefits of your products and services while creating an emotional connection with your audience.

Look (and sound) good. Speaking the right language is more than using the right words and sounding like your audience. Your content should be surrounded by graphics and images that draw your audience in. If your website, newsletter and blog are visually boring or confusing to the eye, prospective customers will leave without reading your message. If they leave, they’ll never learn how you can help them.

How do you communicate with your audience? What strategies work best? Let us know in the comments below.